April 12, 2012

Cassoulet....a dish of the people...

It is one of the classic dishes of the Languedoc and the whole of France. One legend places the birth of cassoulet during the siege of Castelnaudary by the Black Prince, Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1355. The townspeople gathered their remaining food to create a big stew cooked in a cauldron to nourish and bolster their defenders. The meal was so hearty and fortifying that the soldiers handily fought off the invaders, saving the city from occupation. While this is probably not the actual way it went down regrading the origin of cassoulet, one never knows and what is certain, is the importance of the dish as the symbolic defender of French culture.

But since then, several cities have laid claim to the true recipe. In an effort to quell a growing dispute and in a conciliatory gesture, chef Prosper Montagné decreed in 1929, " Le Cassoulet est le dieu de la cuisine occitane. Un Dieu en trois personnes: Dieu le père est celui de Castelnaudary, Dieu le fils est celui de Carcassonne et le Saint-Esprit qui est celui de Toulouse." ("God the father is the cassoulet of Castelnaudary, God the Son that of Carcassonne, and the Holy Spirit that of Toulouse."), making sure all three recipe versions were recognized as equal. Now that's village pride. Over a bean stew.

Andre Daguin, a famous chef of Gascony says, “Cassoulet is not really a recipe, it’s a way to argue among neighboring villages.” Much like chili cook-offs in Texas, cassoulet cooking competitions are held, not only in France, but now even in the United States as well.

Julia Child once quipped, “Cassoulet, that best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but ambrosia for a gastronome, though its ideal consumer is a 300-pound blocking back who has been splitting firewood nonstop for the last twelve hours on a subzero day in Manitoba.” And finally, Anatole France claimed that the cassoulet at his favorite restaurant had been bubbling away for twenty years!

While this recipe won't take quite as long as Anatole's, this does require a good amount of time if you truly want to do it right. This is a hearty and great alternative to plain old stew and can be a great way to use up all those leftovers by simply adding some fresh ingredients and some extra TLC in the kitchen. And duck. To me, really great cassoulet has to have duck, but everyone's palate is different. Some really rustic and kicked up versions include rabbit and they are some of the best I have ever tasted as well. This dish requires a little more attention than most , but the outcome is well worth it. Especially if you have the duck.....

Elaine's Rustic Cassoulet
courtesy of Elaine Giammetta
Ingredients
1/2 lb bacon, cubed
1-15 oz can white kidney beans
1-15 oz can pinto beans
1 large Spanish onion, diced
10 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 lb ground pork
1/4 lb shredded duck confit
1 T dried parsley
2 T dried thyme leaf
1 T rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 t rubbed sage
1/4 to 1/2 c sherry (I use dry)
2-3 qts water (enough to cover all ingredients )
salt and pepper
fresh parsley

Method
In a slow cooker, or large heavy bottomed pot, spread the bacon cubes, evenly over the bottom of the pan. This will be the first layer. Drain and rinse the beans.

Mix beans, onion and garlic together and spread over the bacon creating the second layer. Crumble the ground pork and duck over the beans. This is the third layer.

Mix all the herbs together (except the bay leaf) and sprinkle over the meat. Add water and sherry making sure all the ingredients are covered. This is important, so to ensure proper cooking.

Add the bay leaf. Set temperature on very low and cook 6-8 hours or overnight if possible. If you are using a traditional pot, bring to a boil and then lower temperature and simmer on very low for 6-8 hours. After cooking is complete, gently stir in chopped parsley. Salt and pepper to taste.

Plating
Ladle into a bowl and top with a sprig of parsley. Serve with a warm baguette and a hearty glass of red wine. I chose a nice peppery Malbec. I hope you enjoy it.

Bon Appetit!

Lou
Sources:  en.wikipedia.org

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